Heteronormativity and homophobia dictates that to be anything other than straight is to be strange, to be different, to be feared and to be avoided. Those of us who are teenagers now have still grown up facing a rather negative outlook toward the LGBTQ+ community – we’ve grown up surrounded by jokes and ridicule directed toward queer people, and things like this are incredibly difficult to overcome. It instills an inherent fear and anxiety within us all, which makes it hard for us to come to terms with ourselves as we grow and age and begin to question the labels we conform to within today’s society, and even conform to any labels at all.
As we reach puberty and come to our adolescence, we start to become skeptical. We become unsure of ourselves as we learn more and more about the world which we are slowly but surely becoming exposed to. When we reach our teen years, not only do we learn more about the world around us, we learn more about ourselves. We start to question the feelings we have, we start to wonder who we really are and we find ourselves exploring, learning more about all the different genders and sexualities, wondering where we fit in, where we come to play in the world. These skepticisms creep into our minds and burrow themselves into dark places where they refuse to treat us with kindness. Our uncertainty turns into fear, and that fear morphs into hatred. We don’t know why we feel the way that we do, we start questioning if something is wrong with us, we don’t understand why we are the way that we are. We face challenges like internalized homophobia on a daily basis – we think about it when we are trying to fall asleep at night, we dwell too hard on our thoughts and feelings and being affected by mental illnesses like anxiety can only ever make these feelings more intense and more terrifying.
When I was still coming to terms with my sexuality, I found that I could never get a good night’s sleep no matter how hard I tried. I would lay in bed for hours on end, tossing and turning, trying to block out my thoughts but never succeeding. I could never understand my restlessness, but my heart pounded so furiously against my ribcage and my anxiety bit so deeply into my skin that I began to hate myself. I hated myself because I couldn’t sleep at night, I hated myself because of the way I felt, I hated myself because I was different. I blamed it on the heat of the summer nights, I blamed it on a bad sleeping schedule leftover from the school holidays, but I could never fully come to terms with the fact that the only reason I could never sleep was because I could not stand myself or the way I was.
The thing that I struggled with most was the fact that I was different. I was so used to identifying as straight and talking about boys that when I began to feel different things and question these feelings, terror consumed every bit of me. Coming to terms with sexuality is something incredibly difficult, even in a day and age such as this where we push ourselves to be more compassionate and accepting. Before I even began to assess my sexuality, I was hugely supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, but I still struggled with internalized homophobia for the longest time. I couldn’t bear to live with the knowledge that I was different, fearing all that I couldn’t understand. I felt alone in the world, alone in my struggle, but to finally love and accept myself as I am and to understand that my sexuality is real and valid and I am as well is always enough to give me an adrenaline rush unlike any other.
Experiences with internalized homophobia are different for every person, but they are terrifying and difficult to overcome. If you have a friend who you know is facing a challenge like this, never forget to reassure them that they are loved and valid, and help them where they need it, and if you struggle with internalized homophobia, please know that I support you, as do all your queer siblings.